Sociologist Geert Hofstede, as part of his work looking at the different dimensions of culture, created the idea of 'power distance' - “the extent to which the less powerful members of organisations accept and expect that power is distributed unequally.” Because people feel - physically or psychologically - a long way from where the decisions about their lives are made they become less engaged and involved. This may well explain why, in most developed world democracies, voter turnout rises as social class rises - and this difference has been growing:
In the 1987 general election, for example, the turnout rate for the poorest income group was 4% lower than for the wealthiest. By 2010 the gap had grown to a staggering 23 points.While 'I can't be bothered' or 'I don't understand politics' might be the sort of explanation we get when we canvass non-voters from lower social classes, it is likely that people in these classes no longer feel that their voting makes much difference to what the government does once it's ensconced in nice warm offices down in London. More importantly, other than that periodic opportunity to vote, people feel unable to influence government in its process of decision-making on things that affect them.
If we look at the levels of government, from the parish council up to the EU and other international bodies, it seems more likely that people (and in particular people from lower social classes) are able to influence the decisions of their parish council far more than they are the decisions of the European Union's Commission and Parliament. Those people can and do organise to go to the parish council, a body filled with people much more like them than higher tier levels of government, and argue for a particular course of action. And, more importantly, see that course of action enacted.
The problem in England is that fewer and fewer decisions affecting people (and especially working class people) are made in places close enough to those people for their voice to be worth expressing. So people don't bother. Worse still, since the national decision is necessarily broad brush, the minutiae of how that decision is implemented in a given place are discussed by bureaucrats without reference to the voters these minutiae impact.
Since democracy is as much about how accountable decision-makers feel as it is about how many people vote, the systems we have at national and supra-national levels act to exclude people. Decisions are made about what's taught in schools, about how money for health care is distributed, about where houses should be built - a myriad of things that affect us directly - without the public having the means to contribute or, more importantly, for the decision-makers to feel in any way accountable to that public.
The answer is, of course, making politics more local, not just in homage to Tip O'Neill's maxim that 'all politics is local', but because local decision-making is more accessible and therefore more accountable. This probably makes it better decision-making and it certainly means the politicians can't hide behind layers of Kafka-esque bureaucracy when confronted with their dafter decisions. As Tim Worstall put it (in explaining one reason why Denmark works so well as a culture):
Instead they have what I call the Bjorn's Beer Effect. You're in a society of 10,000 people. You know the guy who raises the local tax money and allocates that local tax money. You also know where he has a beer on a Friday night. More importantly Bjorn knows that everyone knows he collects and spends the money: and also where he has a beer on a Friday. That money is going to be rather better spent than if it travels off possibly 3,000 miles into some faceless bureaucracy.So, if you're looking for ways to improve English government perhaps, instead of moving decisions ever further up the tiers of government, we should do the opposite and move decisions down to the most local level possible. The EU called this 'subsidiarity', spoke at great length about it, then proceeded to ignore it in favour of ever more 'harmonisation' (bureaucrat speak for what the Daily Mail calls the "postcode lottery"). If you're looking for reasons why those disengaged lower social class voters turned out to vote in the Brexit referendum, the fact they felt - perhaps for the first time - that they were actually involved in making an important decision might be a big reason. And, although the stated reasons for voting to leave are many and varied, the fact that the EU is distant, complicated and (in the terms we've discussed) essentially unaccountable sits at the heart of people's choice. "Taking back control" isn't about sovereignty or the UK parliament, it should be a call for us to get decisions about peoples' lives right back down to where those people have a fighting chance of influencing what's decided.